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Panel Explores Balance of 'Margins and Mission' in Catholic Higher Education

Posted on 3/14/2023 11:04:10 AM

This year’s Mother Ursula Infante Memorial Lecture held on March 8, inside the Mansion, gathered Cabrini students, faculty, staff, and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSCs) for a panel discussion about “the road ahead in Catholic higher education.”

Cabrini welcomed Kerry Alys Robinson, Executive Partner, Global and National Initiatives, Leadership Roundtable; and Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. President, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), to explore the balance between “margins and mission” in 2023 and beyond.

The panel presented strategies for maintaining financial solvency while keeping the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching central to the university experience, in a dialogue moderated by Angela N. Campbell, PhD, Vice President, Mission and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, and Chief Mission Officer.

Both panelists agreed that higher education, in general, are facing significant challenges. “Catholic universities are pretty challenged. That’s not a Catholic thing, but that’s higher education in the United States,” said Holtschneider. Institutional costs, such as health care for employees and IT services, have increased significantly, he continued. Meanwhile major technology companies like Google, Amazon, IBM, and even the Museum of Modern Art, are now offering degrees and certificates online.

Holtschneider said we are likely to see creative solutions to these problems emerge from Catholic institutions of higher education. Some colleges are partnering with like-minded institutions to create a fuller experience for students. Others, like a pair of schools opening in fall 2023, are trade schools with a liberal arts core curriculum, he said.

When asked what’s next for Catholic education, Robinson responded that she is convinced that people are looking for moral heroes and heroines, and it’s Catholic education that shines a light on them. “It’s what we see in our teachers, in the priorities of our boards, and certainly in our students. Catholic higher education will continue to illuminate these people.”

“The world desperately needs Catholic institutions of higher education, we just need to reimagine it and the tools that make it work, and make that happen,” said Campbell.

The annual lecture series honors Cabrini’s founder Mother Ursula Infante, who passed away in 2001 at the age of 104, and also served as Cabrini College’s first president. Interim President Helen Drinan began the program by sharing Mother Ursula’s story and legacy, and how they inform the school’s present-day image.

“The spirit, perspective, perseverance, and unwavering hope of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is palpable here at Cabrini,” Drinan said.

Each year’s program includes the presentation of the Cor Jesu Award, which honors a scholar or practitioner who embodies the Cabrinian legacy of making God visible through active social justice work. Ray Ward, Director, Wolfington Center for Civic Engagement, awarded the 2023 honor to Robinson and Holtschneider.  

The night closed with a group celebration of Mother Ursula’s infamous bedtime snack: a slice of cake and a glass of beer. Sister Christine Baltas, MSC (ΚΌ66), Campus Ministry Associate, offered a toast to her fellow Sister.